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Review: Girl on the Third Floor Takes a Stab at Toxic Masculinity

This is one home renovation the Property Brothers should steer clear of!

CM Punk in Girl on the Third Floor

Girl on the Third Floor, the directorial debut of longtime genre producer Travis Stevens, hits streaming this weekend. It tells the story of Don Koch (C.M. Punk), a man attempting to rebuild his life by renovating an old house in the suburbs of Chicago. He is in partially self-imposed exile, with his very pregnant wife remaining behind in the city. They both hope this new house will give their relationship and livelihoods a fresh start.

Unfortunately, Don has a lot—A LOT—of bad habits that he immediately sinks back into. He lies. He drinks. Then he lies more to cover up the drinking. Basically, he’s your typical “alpha male” douchebag. But this ain’t no ordinary house he’s renovating. This former brothel has a mind (or several) of its own, and they have very…. strong opinions about who is allowed to live in it unscathed.

Ignoring the advice of the female pastor that runs the church across the street, and the constant ooze seeping out of the walls and sockets, Don stays in the house and is soon seduced by a mysterious (and ghostly) young woman that appears one day. Unfortunately for him, she refuses to leave him alone, and when he rudely rebuffs her, she becomes violent. When she risks exposing his infidelity (she has quite a moment when his best friend comes to help), he retaliates. While trying to clean up the brutal aftermath, he can no longer ignore that the house is indeed EXTREMELY haunted, but by then, it’s too late. The house is murdering everyone around him, and he can’t escape. He can’t escape his actions or even undo what he has done to himself.

A few weeks later, after Don has stopped responding to her calls, his wife Liz arrives, ready to pop. Unlike her idiot husband, Liz listens to the pastor, (along with her intuition), and has a very different experience in the house. She doesn’t see just the slime and gore, but the ghosts of the women (and children) that lived and worked in the brothel. And while she must still contend with what she finds, she is more than equal to the task of repairing the damage to the house and to herself.

Don fights the Ghost

When speaking about the film at its west coast premier at Beyond Fest, Stevens said that this film was a way for him to confront, and come to terms with, his own toxic masculinity in an attempt at becoming a better human. The haunted house is full of ghosts, yes, but it also works as a magnifying glass—it reflects your worst traits back at you, which is why, as the pastor notes in the film, men rarely survive it. So, not only is Don—the lying, cheating bastard—punished, but his friend, who is complicit in his lies, faces consequences as well.

Overall, the acting is pretty solid. This is C.M. Punk’s first leading role in a feature, and he does a great job as the sleazy, tatted up, bro version of Mad Men’s Don Draper. Karen Woditsch is pitch perfect as the kind yet blunt pastor who doles out advice and whiskey in equal measure, but what really takes Girl on the Third Floor to the next level (pun intended!) is the fantastic array of practical effects. In a way that calls to mind both the infamous “tarman” from Return of the Living Dead and the genital-inspired horrors of H.R. Giger, this haunted house is extremely moist.

But in a really terrific, awful way. The walls bleed, the sinks ejaculate black sludge, and the faucets and electrical sockets ooze out … let’s just call it “ectoplasm.” Everything in the house has a very real, very slimy, and very visceral feel to it.

Pastor Ellie on the porch

That, I think, is what makes this film, even for a female audience member like myself, such a gut punch. While the movie is targeted at men (it’s basically grabbing dudes by the hair and saying “yo man, you better shape the F up!”) and asking them to examine the very worst about themselves, an audience that’s not cisgender men will, I think, get a lot of satisfaction and catharsis from watching a bad dude actually get punished for his crimes. It’s a slimy win-win!

Girl on the Third Floor is now available to rent or buy online.

(images: Dark Sky Films)

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